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Sunday, June 12, 2022

Saturday, February 24, 2018

In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts; Close Encounters With Addiction - Book Review

I have long been fascinated by psychology. Learning why we as humans do the things we do or respond in a given way intrigue's me. I recently bought the book, In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction, by Gabor Mate'. 



The author takes a close look at the roots of addiction and how they play out in the lives of people in various situations. If illicit drugs and/or alcohol are what comes to mind when you think of addiction, this book will show you how most everyone, you and I included, struggle with addiction in one form or another.

Gabor begins the book by sharing the stories of those who struggle with addiction. He explain's how poor prenatal health, childhood trauma and our way of coping with stress all impact our propensity towards addiction. The stories touched me because they sounded oh, so familiar.

- Vulnerability is our susceptibility to be wounded. This fragility is part of our nature and cannot be avoided or escaped. 

-Imprinted in the developing brain circuitry of the child subject to abuse or neglect is fear and distrust of powerful people, especially of caregivers. In time this ingrained wariness is reinforced by negative experiences with authority figures such as teachers, foster parents, and members of the legal system or the medical profession. Whenever I adapt a sharp tone with one of my clients, display indifference, or attempt some well meant coercion for her benefit, I unwittingly take on the features of the powerful ones who first wounded and frightened her decades ago. Whatever my intentions, I end up invoking fear and pain. 

- ... patients need for tranquilizers says much about their infancy and early childhood.  

- People who have difficulty forming intimate relationships are at risk for addiction; they may turn to drugs as social lubricants.

- People are susceptible to the addiction process if they have a constant need to fill their minds or bodies with external sources of  comfort, whether physical or emotional. That need expresses a failure of self regulation - an inability to maintain a reasonably stable internal emotional atmosphere.

- People who cannot find or receive love need to find substitutes - and that's where addictions come in.

- The person with poor self-regulation is more likely to look outside herself for emotional soothing, which is why lack of attunement in infancy increases addiction risk.

- The void (in a child's heart) is not in the parents love or commitment , but in the child's perception of being seen, understood, empathized with, and "gotten" on the emotional level. 

- As a rule whatever we don't deal with in our lives we pass on to our children. Our unfinished emotional business becomes theirs.

- When I am sharply judgmental of  of any other person, it's because I sense or see reflected in them some aspect of myself that I don't want to acknowledge. 

- We avert our eyes from the hard core drug addict not only to avoid ourselves; we do so to avoid facing our share of the responsibility as well.

- As we have seen, injection drug use more often than not arises in people who were abused and neglected as young children. The addict, in other words, is not born but made. His addiction is the result of a situation that he had no influence in creating.

The words in italics are direct quote's from the book. It is not my intention to take away from the authors writing, or misrepresent it in any way. Since this is a book review, I only shared quotes and not my thoughts. Look for upcoming blog posts on many of the quotes shared here.

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

How To Begin Bonding With A Traumatized Toddler


The first months and years of a child's life are critical for building the foundations on which they which they will construct relationships for the remainder of their lives.

When you bring a toddler into your home he may have experienced Prenatal Trauma and will have almost certainly experienced trauma in one form or another during the first months and years of his life. If he hasn't, being removed from the people whom he loves, can easily cause trauma. Trauma is an experience so overwhelming that the brain cannot process what is happening, leaving the individual to suffer from triggers until such a time as he can process the experience. 


Many people erroneously assume that a child who is neglected, abused or has experienced a chaotic home life, will be thankful to be removed from the people who caused, or failed to prevent his suffering. A child depends on those who have neglected/abused him to provide for his basic needs. On one hand he loves/needs these people, on the other hand they hurt him. Imagine how confusing this must be!

If you have adopted or are thinking of adopting a toddler, I highly recommend the book, Toddler Adoption, The Weaver's Craft. In the meantime, here are some things you can do:

- Parent your toddler as you would an infant. You cannot spoil a traumatized toddler by going the extra mile to make sure his need's are met. At this time it is better to err on the side of too much nurture, something that is nearly impossible to do at this stage, rather than thinking, "But what if I spoil him?"

Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs, show's that as humans, we have a basic level of need's. For various reason's many foster/adopted children have missed several of these steps. In order for a child to mature into a an emotionally, stable individual, he will have to experience each level, in order. This means that when a toddler comes into your home it is vital that you start at the base of the pyramid, then move onto the next level's. I want to note that the second level, that of safety, must include Felt Safety.



- Many toddler's are independent beyond their years due to their need to care for themselves. Sometimes as in our son's case, they also cared for younger siblings. Our son was incredibly independent. He became very upset when we tried to help him with something, so we parented him as one would a well attached toddler; we left him take care of himself. In hindsight that was the not at all what he needed.

- Toddler's who are placed in care or adopted often experience intense rages and meltdowns as the attempt to navigate their new world while trying to make sense of what has happened. Per our caseworker's advice, we put our son in time out. One minute for each year of age. Unknown to us we were only exacerbating his Alarm Of Separation. After we learned about TBRI we began practicing Time In versus time out, with much better result's.

In simple word's NURTURE that child. 
DO: love and nurture him, let him be a baby. Let him have things to soothe him be it a blanket, toy or Nuk.

DON'T: Try to make him act his age. He may be a toddler physically, but deep inside he is still just a baby.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

4 Ways A Child Adopted At Birth May Have Experienced Trauma And What You Can Do To Help


As an adoptive mom I have often been asked how old our children were when they came to us. When people hear that most of them were 6 months or younger, the inquirer usually says something like, "At least they were too young to remember their previous circumstances," or, "That's, good! Then you won't have the problems some people have."

I know most of those comments come from the thought that an infant is a like a blank slate. The thought is, if he is too little to remember previous trauma, surely he won't be affected by it.

Let me assure you that even if you bring a child into your home straight from the hospital, he will have trauma. An infants brain is being formed while in the womb and his mother's experiences, diet, prenatal care or lack thereof, all have a direct impact on her unborn child. 

Think about it this way, there is always a reason a child is placed in care or is available for adoption. That reasons may vary, but regardless what they are, the mother will have undoubtedly experienced some stress. Infants who are exposed to high levels of cortisol - a stress hormone - while in utero will have a higher chance for both physical and mental health challenges later in life.

Alcohol is a terratogen, meaning it crosses the placenta and directly impacts the baby. Whatever is being formed at the time mom consumes alcohol, can easily be damaged or destroyed. Sadly many doctors still tell patients that the occasional drink is okay. As the parent of a child with FASD, let me assure you that it is not worth it!

Substance abuse is often a factor when a child needs to be removed from his parents at birth. The impact of  drugs on a child's brain and nervous system is tremendous. This damage may not be visible until the child is about school age, then things seem to fall apart, while for others it is noticeable from day one.

If the mother lived in an abusive situation her unborn child will be directly impacted by her anxiety/stress. One of our children flinches at raised voices, we assume this is directly related to the conflict our child's mother was subject to while pregnant.

If none of these situations affect your child, the mere fact that he was removed from the one person who kept him safe and nurtured him prior to birth can cause for trauma. Of course an infant in this situation will likely be able to build a bond with another caregiver with relative ease since he already has had a firm foundation. However don't be surprised if you see sign's of trauma and don't take them any less seriously than you would any other traumatized child as these things can snowball.

So what can you do if you bring an infant into your home?

- Hold him. I recently told one mom that holding her child now may save her many sleepless nights down the road. An infant has an undeveloped nervous system and he regulates off his parents. Your heart beat "teaches" his heart how fast to beat. Your calm voice, smile and eye contact show him that he is safe. The feel of your skin helps him regulate his body temperature and assure's him you are near. You cannot spoil an infant, especially one who has been traumatized.

- Only mom or dad should feed baby if at all possible. Baby needs to learn that nourishment comes from you.

- Keep visitors to a minimum as Baby needs plenty of time to adjust to his surroundings.

- Do not pass him around for other's to hold. Baby needs to know you are near, he is hyper vigilent and it won't take much for him to enter a state of panic or he may shut down, neither is desirable.

- Keep him wrapped tightly if that calm's him -some baby's exposed to illegal substances are highly sensitive and being swaddled may provide too much sensory input.

- Some infant's like a noise maker, especially if they spent any length of time in the hospital where there was constant noise.

Find what works for your baby and do what it takes to provide those things. By the way, your baby will most likely retain the need for many of  these comfort measure's until way passed what is deemed socially acceptable. My advice is to let them have their comfort's as long as they need them.

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

You Just Need To Discipline That Child! -Trauma Parenting

If you are a trauma parent, chances are you have been called out for inconsistent parenting.

When this happens, I get tongue tied and only later can I think of a logical response. Maybe it is good I can't formulate an immediate reply because I would only get my mouth in trouble

Trauma parenting is not consistent from child to child except in one area; love. All parenting must be done in love, other than that, parenting has to be tailored for each child.

Sadly hindsight is 20/20 so it is only through experience and trial and error that you learn what your child needs.

When we first began parenting traumatized children we quickly learned that you cannot discipline a child until you have his heart. To the outside world, we had our children's hearts and we were doing them a terrible disservice by letting them run over us. At the same time another group of people said, "You are so strict with them, they are children, give them a break!"

Both sides were partly right and both sides were partly wrong. A child who has been through trauma needs to know that his parents have his back. This is something we are still striving for, ten years after our children have come into our home. My children have some behaviors that make people give me that look. The one that says, "He is how old and he still does what?!?" One of my children wets himself for at least a week after he experiences certain stressor's. Is he old enough to know better? Absolutely! Do I punish him? Absolutely not! I know he wets himself because of trauma and trauma cannot be punished out of a child, nor should it be. Trauma is fear, trauma needs reassurance. Instead of reacting as I once would have, I pack extra clothing when we go away and leave it at that.

For those who say we are too strict, I agree that we require our children to toe the line, some more than others. The reason for this is once again, trauma. A traumatized child has a chaotic brain and he needs stability and routine to thrive. He will buck against it, but he needs it. As one mom said, "People say I am a helicopter parent, but I know that is what my child needs."  

Some children with trauma do well in social settings, others do not. I have some of both. One of my children reacts to his trauma the same whether he is at home or away. For this reason he appears ill behaved and we have been encouraged to be firmer with him. What people don't realize is that he falls apart when his siblings aren't melting down. His siblings all suffer from attachment disorder, guess when they put their best foot forward? When we are away, of course! And of course, that is when my other child melts down and gets demanding. We could show this child, "Who is boss," but we know that he is only letting down his guard because the sibling(s) who had spent the day raging and manipulating are finally quiet. You cannot/may not punish a child for that.

Many of our children suffer from brain damage due to the trauma they suffered in utero. This means that any and all discipline or lack there of needs to be taken under the magnifying glass of, why. Why is my child acting like this, what is the driving force behind his behavior. We are all driven by our emotions/experiences but children with trauma are especially prone to view everything through trauma glasses. Parenting children with trauma isn't about making them obey, make good choice's etc. Of course, we as parents desire those things but before any of that can be  accomplished on a daily basis, the child must feel safe, he must feel loved. 

Due to their trauma and/or brain damage, our children mature at a slower rate. This means that the behaviors that make us look like incompetent parents, will continue long past what is deemed socially appropriate. 

Another thing trauma parents come up against is, "You never ask us for advice." That is a legitimate complaint. We trauma parents tend not to ask "traditional parents" for parenting advice. Why? Because of trauma. Until you have lived with trauma, you cannot understand how intertwined your actions and your child's emotional healing become. Our children scrutinize our every movement (watch one of these children sometime) and they weigh those actions against how loved and safe they are feeling at the moment. This means the parents will have their seemingly calm child remain in line of vision while the child who looks like he needs some supervision runs and plays. That looks like inconsistency, but there are things playing into the decisions a trauma parent makes that are not readily apparent to those looking on.

I have been falling into the trap of trying to make my children conform to a certain standard, that of being socially appropriate because I fear what people will think. I know, I know, that is NOT therapeutic parenting! Anyway, Dean pulled me aside and said, "Sandra remember this is trauma, stop worrying about how others view the children. This is about trauma not good parenting or otherwise." I thank God daily for my husband!

*I use the words punish/discipline in this post because while we do not use typically use these forms of correction in the world of trauma parenting, this terminology is what is often used by those trying to understand trauma parents. Instead we use a mode of parenting called TBRI, which is based on trust and Felt Safety.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

The Real Reason, "Adopted Children Don't Turn Out"

If you are an adoptive parent, chances are you have either been told to your face or had it not so subtly implied that, "Adopted children don't turn out." 

As a human being that comment makes my blood boil, as an adoptive parent it hurts deep inside. I long to correct the speaker and explain why adopted children may be more prone to making poor choices. I want to change their condescending attitude to one of empathy.

I am sure you have already heard a story and onto the end it was tacked the comment, "Well, he/she is adopted." As if that explains everything. 

I think, and I am open to correction on this, that people who feel adoption is what makes a child "not turn out," have a sense of security in that mindset. See, if adoption is the cause of an individual's poor choices, then their children who are not adopted somehow have a better chance of avoiding similar pitfalls.

I agree that children who are adopted may tend to make more poor choices than their peers who grew up in stable, secure homes. BUT
I also think those same peers would be making very similar choices if circumstances were switched.

See, adoption isn't what makes children "not turn out well," it is TRAUMA. It is not the child's fault he was born to a mother who was buried in her own traumatic past. It isn't his fault those early childhood experiences affected his brain, leaving him in a panicked state of mind. It isn't his fault that he was born to parents who were addicted to substances and as a result were unable to provide the care he needs. And before you blame the parents, remember: Trauma is the root of addiction.

So the next time you hear a story that ends with a whispered, "Well, he is adopted," take a moment to enlighten the speaker about the effects of trauma. 

Remember the quote, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Show some empathy for the person who has made a poor choice. Come alongside him and hold him up when he feels weak. Encourage him and offer your support. You will help him more than you will ever know.


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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Processing Trauma Memories


Last night we went to get our passports, something we have talked about doing for a long time but kept pushing off.

As Dean and I sat side by side filling out paperwork a growing sense of unease filled my gut, my brain refused to cooperate and the tension grew. We were frantically filling out the forms an hour before we had to leave for our appointment, so I blamed my reaction on having to rush about.

When we got to the library and began going over the forms together. I had a flashback of the last time we sat around a table answering questions and signing paperwork. That time we were in an attorney's office signing away our parental rights, something I never dreamed we would do! 

Turns out I wasn't the only one feeling a bit traumatized. Kiana had a rough evening. Over the top giggling can signal dysregulation every bit as much as does meltdowns and raging. She went from giggling hysterically to sobbing hysterically, a sure sign that something was going on.

I finally sat her down and asked her what was wrong. Of course she gave the answer I expected, "Nothing!" I tried rephrasing my question but she wasn't ready to talk. I told her to sit and tap, which gets the two sides of the brain to communicate. My children don't like tapping when something is bugging them because their mode of coping is to bury and stuff their anxiety. They know tapping will get their brain to thinking, something they want to avoid at all costs. Of course Kiana responded to my request to tap with defiance and rage, anything to avoid complying with me.

I left her sit and rage for awhile and when I noticed she was calming down I called her over and said, "Something is bothering you, I have a good idea what it is but I want you to try to figure it out." When helping someone work through a trigger/memory it is best if they can figure out what is behind the emotion because this means they are processing the information. If you just tell them, they don't work through the steps on their own. You may need to coach the person along which is what often happens with our children, but we try to get them to do as much thinking on their own as possible.

She denied that she had any idea what was bothering her, but we have learned to know our children well enough that we usually know when they do not know the answer to a question, when they are being stubborn or when the answer is just to hard to say. Kiana's issue was obviously the latter.

I told her that I think going to sign those papers scared her. I asked why she thinks she felt so scared, and she shrugged her shoulders. "What were you thinking about when you had that scared feeling?" I asked. She mumbled, "My mom." Ahh, so I was was on the right track!

"What did your mom have to do with signing those papers?" I asked. "Maybe you were telling her how I act....." she replied. "Hmmm, and why would that make you afraid?" Her lip was trembling so I waited until she whispered, "You might give me back to her."

I had figured that was her problem all along but I didn't want to give her any idea's, plus as I said before, it is best if the person works through their problems themselves. We went over the how's and why's of adoption again and Kiana burst out, "It is just like buying and selling animals! You buy an animal and then you sell it again, adoption is the same way!"

I left her talk for awhile then said, "Since you are comparing adoption to selling animals, let's think about it. If a cow has a calf and won't let her drink milk, is it better to give the calf to a cow who will take care of her or should the farmer leave the calf die?" She didn't hesitate, "You should give her to a cow who will take care of her!"

"Right, because a little calf will die without milk to drink. How about when the calf is half grown and can take care of herself some of the time. Should the calf go back to her birth mom or stay with the mama who has been taking care of her all along?" Kiana started to say, "She should stay with the mom who is taking care of her," but suddenly realized where the conversation was heading and back pedaled. "She should go to her birth mom!!!" Let me add here that Kiana, like many adopted children, has an attachment with her birth mom and would like to live with her but at the same time fears having to go back. It is a complicated emotion for a child to work through.

"What if the calf's birth mom still has a hard time caring for her?" I asked next. Kiana said quietly, "I guess she should stay with the mom who has been taking good care of her."

I agreed then said, "Did we ever get rid of a child?" Kiana's eye's welled with tears and she nodded, "Braden left." 

"Yes he did," I agreed, "But do you remember why he left?" Kiana said, "Because he had a big hurt in his heart." 

"Who else has a big hurt in their heart?" I asked. "Me," Kiana whispered. "That must be a scary feeling," I acknowledged. "Did you know that when Braden left he didn't even cry? He was so happy to be moving to a new family." 

"He is mean!" Kiana cried. "No Kiana, he was hurting," I  said and went on to explain attachment in as simple words as I could.

"It is really hard for mom to explain, but someday when you are older you will be able to understand," I finished. "For now you have a choice, trust mom when she says that you will never go to a new home, but it was the best thing for Braden; or don't trust mom and let your worry and fear grow bigger."

"I will try to trust you, but it is really hard!" Kiana said. 

We ended our conversation with our usual hugs and she seemed to feel better but I know this will be an ongoing conversation. 

Sometimes I can't help but wonder why must life be so difficult for the children God has entrusted into our care. So often I feel as though I am bumbling along making things worse instead of better, but then I remember that God can take my feeble efforts and bring healing to hurting hearts.

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